Life Among Giants, by Bill Roorbach
I bought this book with fingers crossed. Usually when I buy a book I don’t really know much about or an author I’ve never read, I hedge my bets and buy the e-book version. So buying this one in hardback was an article of faith. But this time my crossed fingers boded good fortune.
Roorbach’s book is primarily the story of David “Lizard” Hochmeyer, a football prodigy who as a young boy witnesses his father and mother being shot by a paid assassin. His sister Kate is there, too, and the siblings dwell on this trauma deep into adulthood; indeed, until near book’s end. Adding to the story’s complications are Sylphide, a renowned European ballet dancer, and her hangers-on, Kate’s husband Jack, a pair of gay restauranteurs, and of course, David and Kate’s parents. The father is a rather enigmatic but eminently predictable figure to the end, the mother a histrionic, self-centered person, and the person (persons) who shot the pair are seen to be threatening Sylphide, David, and Kate as well. To say more might put the story at reader’s risk, so I’ll stop the synopsis there.
The writing is the charm of the book, Roorbach’s prose (first-person – David), adding his own apparent gleam to all characters, large and small. This is the strong point of first-person narratives, but Roorbach adds what is clearly his own oomph to both story and characterizations. David is, by book’s midpoint, a famed ex-football player and restauranteur, Sylphide is world famous, and yet, contrary to more cliched prose, both are engaging but erring humans, yet with a deep honesty of character.
Roorbach is obviously influenced by the American postmodern fiction I’ve castigated here, but to his credit, he makes that genre work by creating characters with charm. He keeps his narrator harnessed, and he creates layers and layers of subtlety that David Foster Wallace, Michael Chabon, and others might only dream about. My only complaint is that Roorbach’s skittering back and forth in time isn’t done as skillfully as I’d hoped, and that lack made the author’s fluid prose sometimes seem a bit phlegmatic.
My rating: 17 of 20 stars